By Suzy Strutner, managing editor at Grow Wire
- The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain make it obvious we need more discussion around mental health as it relates to high-profile and emotionally demanding jobs.
- Depression is more common than you might think, especially among CEOs and entrepreneurs.
- Talk with a therapist if you have symptoms of depression, and protect yourself by growing a healthy work-life outlook with some simple, everyday practices.
This week, the tragic deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain rocked their respective families, professional communities and fan bases. Spade and Bourdain committed suicide within days of each other, sparking national discussion on topics like managing career success with mental illness and the myth of a “perfect” life.
Their stories are heartbreaking, and each is set against a backdrop of mental illness. Spade struggled with anxiety and depression, her husband confirmed to People this week. Bourdain, meanwhile, openly discussed his battles with drug addiction and made comments about depression.
Business and depression have a scary correlation.
Their struggles weren’t uncommon. More than 16 million U.S. adults have a major depressive episode in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And those who succeed in business may suffer more: Anecdotally, CEOs have a greater tendency toward depression than average employees, according to a 2008 report from The University of Cincinnati.
Sepideh Saremi is an L.A.-based psychotherapist who works frequently with overachievers who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts. Her clients -- many of whom are entrepreneurs or have enviable, high-powered jobs -- often find it hard to reach out for help because they’re “groomed to be performers,” she told Grow Wire.
“Especially in L.A., there’s lots of pressure to appear perfect,” Saremi said. “And when you’re in a business or have a brand that’s very visible, it can be harder to be open about what you’re going through.”
Do some Googling, and you’ll find entrepreneurship has a well-documented relationship with depression. Stories abound of startup founders who took their own lives, not only when business went south, but also while their companies enjoyed success.
Entrepreneur Kalika Yap has seen it firsthand. Her uncle committed suicide in 2007 amid personal conflicts, even though his roofing company was doing well. At first, Yap couldn’t understand why. Then, as her three businesses took hits during the Recession, she felt terrifyingly lonely.
“I had friends and acquaintances who were entrepreneurs, but I didn’t have a specific support group I could turn to when I was struggling,” Yap wrote in an April article for Grow Wire. “…I started to understand why my uncle had felt so hopeless and wanted to kill himself.”
Ultimately, Kalika found support in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global network whose L.A. chapter meets regularly to both talk business and hang out. Her friends there share her business concerns and help her grow personally and professionally, she wrote.
Here’s how to “stay in the light” as a business leader.
Beyond building friendships, separating your “work self” from your “real self” can majorly help in avoiding depressive episodes, Saremi says. She often warns entrepreneurs against thinking of their businesses as their “child” or an extension of themselves -- that way, they won’t feel like a failure when problems inevitably arise.
“Your brand is a separate entity from you,” Saremi told Grow Wire. “Even if you’re a celebrity chef -- even if the brand is your name -- you need to keep a separate persona for the brand so you can ensure you’re taking care of yourself when you’re not working.”
If you experience symptoms of depression, Saremi advises seeing a therapist as soon as you can. Everything you say there will be confidential, and you don’t have to talk about your struggles with anyone else.
And if you don’t struggle with symptoms, it’s still key to build a healthy work-life outlook, especially if you’re an entrepreneur or exec. Here are some practical ways to do it.
1. Join or start a group.
Follow Yap’s lead, and join an entrepreneurs’ or industry-specific group in your area. If organized hangouts aren’t your thing, then gather some contacts from your line of work for a monthly cocktail to celebrate wins and brainstorm new ways to solve problems particular to your industry.
2. Talk to friends or family.
Saremi encourages chatting about problems with friends or family, if you can. This is different from a group setting, because these people know you more intimately and can advise you on a more personal level.
3. Go for a run.
Instead of sitting in a therapist’s office, Saremi goes for runs with her clients and talks things out while jogging.
“The effort took my mind off of being self-conscious about spilling my guts to someone I’d just met,” PureWow writer Dana Dickey wrote after a session with Saremi last year.
Try the same tactic with your friends or colleagues, and you might be surprised at how much easier the conversation flows. Endorphins don’t hurt happiness levels, either.
4. Set “no work” hours.
Decide on designated hours every day where you absolutely don’t touch work. The zillion-hour workday isn’t healthy nor typical, Saremi says.
“Lately, I’ve noticed this tendency to glamorize ‘grinding’ and ‘hustling,’” she added. “It’s a very ‘Silicon Valley’ paradigm of, ‘We only ate ramen and slept on the floor, then woke up to code.’ We’ve glamorized this kind of lifestyle so people think it’s normal. But it’s not.”
5. Look back at what you’ve already accomplished.
It’s tempting to focus on challenges you haven’t yet conquered at work, especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Take time to reminisce on what you’ve already overcome and celebrate your growth so far.
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